When I spoke with Chris Robinson last July in these very pages, the basic tracks for his band’s latest LP, Servants of the Sun, had just been completed. When asked about the album, Robinson remarked that “The last few records have had a lot of acoustic elements, and this time I really wanted this band to be really electric, and I definitely think we captured that.” Nearly one year later, Servants of the Sun (Silver Arrow Records) delivers on Robinson’s promise.
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood played at least half of the material on Servants of the Sun live for more than a year before the album was recorded, and that in itself shows just how intent Robinson was on making a super-soul-fried rock ‘n’ roll album, tailor made for the stage as well as the headphones. The performances here are dialed in, they slap with an endless supply of groove, and Robinson holds court as best as he’s ever done throughout his career with his one-of-a-kind “Manson’s Good Twin” routine.
The album kicks off with the boogie groove of “Some Earthly Delights.” The vocal harmonies of Robinson and lead guitarist Neal Casal flow like cool clear water, and the shaman himself offers up worldly wisdoms galore. On “Venus In Chrome”—the highlight of the LP—drummer Tony Leone lays the beat slightly behind the rest of the group, as the cut takes a cruise down Beach Boys lane, with its airy “ah-ah-ah” chorus and purely dynamite, classic Chris Robinson-bridge, made of pure “crystal fire and diamond sky.”
Still, some of these diamonds shine brighter than others, for better or worse. At points, Robinson sucks a bit of air out of the room, as too often he crosses into a lyrical land where, presumably, only unicorns and he exist. There’s only such hippie banter that one album can sustain, and while it’s worked for Robinson marvelously on previous CRB LPs, on Servants of the Sun, the edge is apparently too hard to handle sometimes. On “The Chauffeur’s Daughter,” Robinson sings, “I’m in love with the chauffeur’s daughter, I guess everybody knows.”
Perhaps, but what is understood is that not even Casal’s tasty leads and the rave-up jam at the end can keep the track from sounding way forced.
On “Dice Game,” Robinson—who’s recently spoken publicly about his recent divorce—makes a hard-sell for empathy, it would seem. But unfortunately for CR, there’s none to be had.
Otherwise—when that’s not happening—well, then the music’s hot. Robinson has recently confirmed the CRB will go on hiatus for a while after touring through the summer. One would hope this is not the last to be heard of from the CRB, and that Robinson will pull the group off the shelf once again somewhere down the line. But, as with all things Chris Robinson, one simply never knows. For now, Servants of the Sun will have to tide fans over until there’s a new dawn.